Armor: May 7, 2003


Many of the "military transformation" enthusiasts are trying to downplay the important role the M-1 tanks and M-2 infantry vehicles played in the Iraq campaign. The military transformation crowd has come to believe progress means that "the tank is dead." Progressive military thinkers have been saying that for nearly half a century. But the death of the tank has been embraced by many in the media as well. The M-1 was frequently described in the media as "lumbering," when it is anything but. The M-1 has a top speed (limited by a governor) of 72 kilometers an hour and is considered a "lively" and highly maneuverable vehicle. The M-2 was built partly so there would be an armored infantry fast enough to keep up with M-1s sprinting cross country at fifty kilometers an hour. In Iraq, the fire control system of the M-1s was as good as ever, in one case getting hitting an enemy vehicle 4100 meters away on the first shot. So lethal was the M-1 that most Iraqi troops abandoned their armored vehicles when M-1s showed up. The Iraqi troops felt they had a better chance setting up ambushes inside towns and villages. They were right, but not by much. The 12.7mm (.50 caliber) machine-guns on the tanks and 25mm cannon on and 7.62mm machine-gun on the M-2 took down these ambushes quickly. The 3rd Mechanized Division, in fact, had a shortage of infantry. Since 13 of the 40 men in an M-2 platoon the four M-2s to drive and operate the weapons, there were only about 1200 infantry (in the divisions five infantry battalions) you could actually put on the ground. So the firepower of the M-1s and M-2s did most of the work when Iraqi troops were encountered.


Moreover, it was found that the mech infantry had poor fire discipline, blasting away in a hasty and uncoordinated fashion. The light infantry (of the 101st Airmobile and 82nd Airborne divisions) were better in this respect, mainly because that's how they trained. The mech infantry training revolved around their armored vehicles, at the expense of some pure infantry training. But this proved to be a minor problem, the combined fire power put out by the armored vehicles and infantry overwhelmed any opposition the Iraqis put up. Moreover, the design of the M-2 made it largely immune to the numerous RPGs (rocket propelled anti-tank grenade launcher) the Iraqis used. The light infantry could roll up in hummers and trucks (many armed with 12.7mm or 7.62mm machine-guns) and blow past Iraqi defenses, but would take more casualties in the process, and were more prone to lose vehicles to RPG hits. The fact of the matter was that the rapid advance against irregulars and armored vehicles would not work without the M-1. And for the M-1 to work, you need armored infantry vehicles like the M-2 that can keep up with them. Anyone who pushes for dumping most of American M-1s without dealing with the grim alternatives, is making a bad move.


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